Pinot Gallizio

Galleria Martano

Certain artists working outside the mainstream have succeeded in introducing changes in the direction of art history—sometimes small changes, sometimes not so small. To this line of eccentrics, which includes such figures as Le Douanier Rousseau and Piero Manzoni (but not, for example, Marcel Duchamp or Yves Klein), we owe significant if unexpected contributions. Artists of this sort are simultaneously ingenuous and profound, and the depth of their influence often becomes apparent only after the fact. Such was the case with Pinot Gallizio (1902–64), whose recognition, however, remains restricted to a small circle of connoisseurs. This exhibition, which included nineteen works, was also the occasion for the publication of a monumental catalogue. Gallizio presented himself as a “chemist, botanist, archaeologist,” and in fact he worked as an artist only from 1953 on. Prior to that he had practiced pharmacy in the small town of Alba in the Piedmont hills, where he experimented with what we would now call alternative therapies—medicinal herbs and natural remedies. In 1952, a casual encounter with the artist Piero Simondo inspired him to pursue art with the same alchemical curiosity he had put into his botanical research. Gallizio’s, painting is the work of a dilettante, created out of an enthusiastic discovery of art informel and its love of gesture and material. But in it he also rediscovered his scientific interests, and he began to speak of painting in terms of an “antiworld” and “antimatter.” He soon came into contact with Asger Jorn, one of the founders of the CoBrA group, with whom (along with Ettore Sottsass Jr.) he started the Movimento Internazionale per una Bauhaus Immaginista (MIBI). Its ethos was one of Dadaist anarchy and absolute rejection of functionalism and architectural and social rationalism. The group maintained contact with the Internationale Lettriste, one of whose members was Guy Debord, subsequently the theoretician of the “society of the spectacle.” The union of the two factions in 1957 resulted in the Situationist International, the legendary intellectual and political organization that served as a model for the most anarchic movements of the subsequent decade.

It was within this atmosphere of generous experimentalism that Gallizio conceived and created, among other things, two large works that make it possible to consider him a precursor to the makers of the happenings and environmental art of the ’60s and ’70s: Rotolo di pittura industriale (Roll of industrial painting), 1958, and Caverna dell’Antimateria (Cave of antimatter), 1959. The former is a roll of canvas 243 feet in length, executed in a monotype technique and with extemporaneous gestural interventions, to be cut to measure, thereby bringing together individual impulse and industrial production. Cave of Antimatter, created at Galerie Drouin in Paris after an extremely long correspondence with Debord, covered the walls, floor, and ceiling of the gallery with similar “industrial painting.” According to the artist, the result was an environment separate from the world and part of an “antiworld.”

Presented in the gallery here were something like fragments of “industrial painting”: canvases covered with pigment, lampblack, and crusts of plastic resin; shapes suggesting crystals or elementary organisms flailing around in a vain effort to break free of the primal ooze and form more complex and stable systems. Clearly Gallizio’s attainment of an art of “antimatter” was partial, and perhaps also conceptually imperfect, tied as it was to the materiality of painting. But it was another one of those “zones of immaterial sensibility” of which Klein was speaking at precisely the same moment.

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.